Impact assessment highlights benefit of banning disposable vapes

Analysis of the economic and environmental impacts of Scotland’s planned prohibition on the sale of single-use vapes, highlights potential benefits in terms of reduced waste and litter, lower fire risk, and savings in waste management costs for local authorities

Single-use vapes discarded on the groundThe Scottish Government has published its Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) detailing the expected economic and environmental consequences of the planned ban on the sale and supply of single-use vapes, set to come into force in April 2025. The assessment highlights the current costs associated with managing the increasing number of disposable vapes and the potential financial benefits the ban could bring.

In recent years, the use of single-use vapes has skyrocketed. By August 2023 almost five per cent of adults in the UK were estimated to be using them, up from just 0.1 per cent in January 2021. This surge in popularity has led to a significant increase in the quantity of entering the waste system, presenting well-documented hazards. The Scottish Government's ban aims to address these by promoting a shift towards reusable vaping alternatives and reducing the overall consumption of single-use vapes.

According to the BRIA, the proposed ban is expected to have a substantial economic impact on businesses involved in the vaping industry supply chain. Over a 10-year appraisal period (2025-2034), the assessment central estimate is that retailers in Scotland could face a loss of profit amounting to £1,567.6 million due to the inability to sell single-use vapes. Wholesalers and importers/re-branders are also expected to bear significant costs, with projected losses of £229.9 million and £252.9 million, respectively.

However, the BRIA suggests that businesses may be able to partially offset these losses by transitioning to selling reusable vaping products and associated accessories. The assessment estimates that retailers could gain approximately £317.9 million in profits from the sale of alternative vaping products (over the ten-year appraisal period), while wholesalers and importers/re-branders could see profits of £46.6 million and £51.3 million, respectively.

The Scottish Government acknowledges that the ban may have a more significant impact on small and independent retailers who have specialised in selling single-use vapes. However, its impact assessment emphasises that the proposed legislation will apply uniformly across Scotland, creating a level playing field for all businesses and minimising the risk of consumers switching to other retailers to purchase disposable vapes.

Environmental impacts and cost savings

In 2023, an estimated 5 million single-use vapes were littered or discarded in general waste bins every week in the UK, nearly four times the amount recorded in the previous year. By reducing the volume of single-use vapes entering the waste stream, the ban is expected to lead to a cleaner environment and decreased clean-up costs for local authorities.

Due to the presence of lithium-ion batteries, disposable vapes thrown in general waste bins have been causing fires in waste collection vehicles and transfer sites. Currently, these batteries are estimated to be responsible for approximately 48 per cent (over 200) of all waste fires in the UK a year.

Also problematic are discards into the natural environment, as these devices release harmful substances such as nicotine salts, heavy metals, lead, and mercury. These chemicals can contaminate waterways and soil. Additionally, the plastic casings of littered disposable vapes can break down into microplastics.

The ban is expected to mitigate these issues by encouraging a shift towards reusable vaping alternatives, which have a lower environmental impact over their lifetime.

The BRIA provides specific figures over the 10-year appraisal period for the monetised environmental benefits expected from the Scottish Government’s planned intervention. In the central scenario, the assessment estimates an economic benefit of £0.3 million from reduced litter, £0.9 million from reduced incineration emissions, and £7.4 million from reduced greenhouse gas emissions caused by waste fires (£1.2 million from combustion-related emissions and £6.2 million from black carbon emissions).

The ban is also projected to result in significant savings for local authorities in terms of avoided waste management costs. The BRIA estimates landfill tax savings of £0.8 million, landfill gate fee savings of £0.2 million, and Energy from Waste (EfW) gate fee savings of £1.5 million for local authorities (all based on 2025 prices).

Another key consideration highlighted in the assessment is the potential savings in critical raw materials used in the production of single-use vapes, reducing use of valuable resources such as lithium, cobalt, and copper.

The assessment also highlights the non-monetised environmental benefits that can not easily be quantified due to data limitations or uncertainties. These include the reduction in fires caused by single-use vapes at waste sites and on waste trucks, the decrease in environmental damage resulting from the leaching of toxic chemicals and plastics from littered disposable vapes into terrestrial and marine environments, and the potential emissions savings from reduced global manufacturing and raw material extraction related to single-use vapes.